the cure

6 Jun 2014 § 1 Comment

…for anything is salt water – sweat, tears or the sea ~ Isak Dinesen

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xin chào hà nội!

25 Jan 2013 § 1 Comment

We just got back from a 4d/3n trip to Hanoi that was booked a year ago thanks to Air Asia’s cheap flights deal. Considering this was the least researched trip we’ve been on as I was too busy in the weeks leading up to the trip to start my usual OCD planning, we did manage to do quite a fair bit of eating and walking, thanks to the itinerary and detailed maps I’d discovered at Savour Asia’s website.

For me, Hanoi can best be described as chaotic, no thanks to its traffic. It’s a stark contrast to laid back Chiang Mai which we visited more than a year ago. Here in the Old Quarter, the streets are busy at all hours of the day, honks can be heard frequently and crossing the street is a game of stop-and-go as you try to dodge the never-ending river of motorcyclists and cars.

As a friend remarked, “Avoid the cars and the motorcyclists will try to avoid you.”

DSCF3633Four way traffic, a very common sight

The Old Quarter is charming with its winding streets and little alleyways, but best explored with a map in hand. Each street is named after the products that are traded there…so you have streets where you will encounter shops after shops selling silver, tin, haberdashery and even bamboo – although with modern times, some shops have changed their trade and we’ve even come across a street that sells wedding invitation cards, heh. Coupled with tiny phở bò, phở gà, bún riêu, bún chả and little tea and coffee shops that seem to pop up at every corner…you can rest assured that you will never run out of things to shop or eat.

DSCF3551Bamboo products at Hang Buom

DSCF3611Makeshift stalls everywhere

DSCF3623Hanoi’s cafe culture

The weather during the four days we were there was nice and cool, albeit cloudy. Our hopes of watching the sunset over West Lake as we sipped coffee at the Summit Lounge of Sofitel hotel were dashed as the fog literally swallowed up the sun, leaving only a faint orange ball in the sky instead of the spectacular sunset reflected in the waters below as we’d hoped to see.

DSCF3673View of Hanoi’s streets from the Summit Lounge

Screen shot 2013-01-25 at 12.08.57 PMSunset at West Lake

The hotel we stayed at, Church Boutique Hotel, was conveniently located at Hang Gai (the ‘silk’ street), which was a stone’s throw away from Hoàn Kiếm lake. Just two streets down from the hotel was Ly Quoc Su street which leads to St. Joseph’s Cathedral, another popular tourist spot, and Hang Manh which houses one of the more popular bún chả spots (#1 Hang Manh).

DSCF3439Our room at Church Boutique Hotel

DSCF3616A popular bánh mì stall along one of the alleys leading off Ly Quoc Su street. We bought one from her every day!

Eating was certainly a fun experience as we were determined to do as the locals do…sit along the roadside on the rickety plastic stools with our knees up to our chin as we savour hot bowls of noodles. I was careful to only eat at places recommended on Savour Asia, basing my assumption on the fact that if the author did not suffer any bouts of food poisoning after his/her meal there, we should be fine as well (and we were!).

DSCF3711Bún chả: rice vermicelli, grilled pork and pork patties in a sourish soup, fresh greens and fried spring rolls

DSCF3466Phở bò @ #49 Bat Dan street

DSCF3700Bánh mì: absolutely awesome here in Hanoi. Crunchy on the outside, soft as a pillow on the inside.

DSCF3548A streetside vendor serving all sorts of fried food (I tried the banh chuoi / banana fritters and it was yummeh!)

Sightseeing around Hanoi was limited to the usual touristy spots: a walk around Hoàn Kiếm lake, the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum (extremely tight security…seriously guys, no one’s going to make off with his embalmed body, really), Temple of Literature, Hanoi’s Opera House and a stroll down West Lake. In our meanderings, we did stumble across a popular wedding photography spot near Sofitel Metropole hotel…so popular that the maitre’d told us that on good days, he has seen up to 120 couples queuing up to pose for their wedding photos!

DSCF3386Hoàn Kiếm lake

DSCF3418The Opera House

DSCF3590A popular wedding photography spot in front of Sofitel Metropole Hotel

DSCF3488Fly fishing at West Lake seems to be a popular past time

DSCF3480The imposing Ho Chi Minh mausoleum

DSCF3521At the Temple of Literature

Most of our four days were spent exploring the Old Quarter after having paid our dues at the obligatory tourist spots on the second day. The foodie highlight of the trip for me (apart from consuming copious bowls of bún chả), was discovering ‘Chicken Street’ or Lý Văn Phức…a small alley off a main road that serves nothing but grilled chicken! If you ever plan to go there, head straight for the end of the alley to the last shop…you will see buckets of skewered chicken parts waiting to be grilled, a huge box of bánh mì, and plenty of locals enjoying their meal with beer. It’s an experience not to be missed…we had chicken wings, chicken thighs, chicken breast, and four incredibly delicious flattened bánh mì that was honey coated before being heated up on the grill and it only costs us VND250,000. Truly a hidden gem!

DSCF3578Grilling it up at Lý Văn Phức

With a late flight out of Hanoi on our last day, we extended our check-out time to 6pm and spent the afternoon shopping for souvenirs for family and friends. I managed to find two lovely pieces of silk fabric which I plan to make into qipaos and a handmade stuffed pony for the little one.

We definitely plan to come back for another visit, hopefully with a trip to Halong Bay, Sapa or Da Nang slotted in as well…but if not, the promise of bún chả itself is definitely worth a trip back!

In the meantime, here is a list of the places that we’ve tried during our short trip there, most of which are marked on Savour Asia’s Hanoi maps anyway:

Phở Bò

1. #49 Bat Dan street. Serving from 6AM-11:30AM, then resuming again at 6PM. They serve three types of meat: chin (sliced well-done), tai (sliced rare), nam (flank).

Bún Chả

1. #6 Le Phung Hieu. A short walk from the back entrance of Sofitel Metropole at the intersection between this street and Tong Dan street.

2. #1 Hang Manh, a local favorite and always crowded during lunch time.

Coffee/tea with a view

1. Café Pho Co @ #11 Hang Gai. Go down the alley and up the spiral stairs to the highest floor and you’ll be rewarded with a view of Hoàn Kiếm Lake.

2. The corner cafe right in front of St. Joseph Cathedral at the intersection of Nha Tho street and Ly Quoc Su.

Fried food

1. #52 Ly Quoc Su near St. Joseph Cathedral for bánh gối, bánh rán ngọt and bánh rán mặn.

2. A small roadside stall at the intersection of Hang Dieu and Bat Dan for bánh chuối and bánh khoai.

Street food from all regions of Vietnam

1. Quan An Ngon Restaurant @ #18 Phan Boi Chau

tanjong jara take two.

20 Sep 2012 § Leave a comment

After spending a wonderful weekend at Tanjong Jara back in February, we decided to head back for another trip during the Malaysia Day weekend with the little one in tow, together with another family and their two kids. An early morning flight saw us yawning all the way to the airport, only to be greeted by the unusual sight of a long queue snaking all around the domestic check-in counters at KLIA – at least half of KL must have decided to fly off for a short holiday! Lucky for us, we arrived just as the gate was closing – this meant that we could skip the queue and head straight to a dedicated counter for late check-ins and family traveling with kids!

The 55 minute flight to the Sultan Mahmood airport at Kuala Terengganu was pretty uneventful – the little girl had travelled on a plane before so she had no problems with seatbelts, take-off and landing. We’d earlier decided against booking the airport transfer service from the hotel (which costs RM300 per car per way, gasp!) and hired a cab from the airport instead (RM100 per cab). The one hour drive took us through small towns and gave us a glimpse of the charming East Coast beach, though my girl was more engrossed with reading e-books on my phone rather than the picturesque scenery outside as we journeyed to the resort.

We were greeted with a warm welcome upon arrival at Tanjong Jara, and personally greeted by Ms. Wai Gin, the guest liaison manager that we met during our first visit. Check-in was quick and easy, accompanied with cold towels and a refreshing cup of roselle juice which had my girl insisting that it was Ribena, heh! I had put in a request when I booked the trip for adjoining rooms located near the swimming pool as we were traveling with young kids and not too keen on the long meandering walk from one end of the resort to the other. However, those rooms were also situated near an area that was undergoing construction and apparently, my previous comments in the guest survey regarding ongoing construction after we’d stayed at Gaya Island had been duly noted as we were given an upgrade from the Bumbung rooms I’d originally booked to bigger Serambi rooms which was located away from the noise, and had a connecting door between the rooms. I thought this was a really nice gesture, and I’m impressed that YTL does take their guests’ feedback and requests into account even amongst their resorts. Thank you, YTL!

The resort was running at full occupancy due to the long weekend, but to be honest, I hardly saw other guests except at the pool and during meal times when we were greeted with the sight of a fully packed restaurant. Here’s a tip if you decide to visit during peak periods: do pre-book your table at Di Atas Sungei for dinner – in the words of Chef Ann, the resident menu master, “What’s important is that you get a table!”

The breakfast buffet had a really good spread of food – pastries were baked fresh on-site (do try the croissants), and I happily satiated my cravings for nasi lemak on both days with a huge plate of coconut rice, anchovies, sambal and pickled cucumbers. We could also order off the breakfast menu, and I highly recommend the pancakes with bananas – it’s oh-so-fluffy and light and tastes delightful with the caramelized bananas. My daughter enjoyed it so much she had the same dish two days in a row. As for dinner, rest assured that the food quality was not compromised despite the crowd. The food arrived promptly and the portions were so generous that we could hardly find room for dessert! We had two types of starters and a veritable variety of dishes for our mains. The men enjoyed the butter milk prawns so much that we ordered a double helping on the second night, and other notable dishes were the ‘foo yong’ egg, deep fried calamari (which was served as a starter), sizzling Japanese tofu as well as the chocolate lava cake and deep fried banana fritters with ice cream.

We arrived on Saturday which meant we could bring the kids to take part in the ‘Kampung Life’ activities that was set-up just a few steps away from our rooms. We indulged in coconut juice and delicious ‘apam balik’ while the kids watched in fascination as the monkey climbed the coconut tree to pluck fresh coconuts and tried playing congkak before we headed off to the beach.

The beach is perfect in the evenings as it isn’t too hot and there’s plenty of space for the little ones to run around. There were plenty of little seashells scattered all over the beach, more than enough to keep my girl happy as she went off ‘treasure hunting’ – burying and digging out her little treasures.

I’d also brought along a kite and the weather was just perfect for kite-flying – no effort was needed as the kite was immediately swept up by the strong winds! My daughter was squealing in delight as she watched the kite flutter and fly in the breeze and couldn’t wait to have a go.

On the second day, we headed down to the pool next to Nelayan restaurant. Mummies should take note that there isn’t much shade at the pool side if you go in the afternoons, and it can get quite hot if there isn’t any breeze. I slathered on sunscreen on both myself and my girl and kept her properly covered up. As she was recovering from a cough, I only let her paddle in the baby pool for a short while. She probably found the weather too hot as well as she soon asked if we could go back to the room. The restaurant staff kindly packed our lunch for us and we ended up enjoying a picnic on the daybed in the cool relief of the room instead.

After dinner that night, the staff helped to set up a projector at an open area located near our rooms that looks like it was built for a ‘cinema-under-the-stars’ experience – there were chairs and a raised platform for us to sit on, and we happily munched on snacks that I’d brought along as we watched Shrek 4 – it felt like a personalized experience as we were the only two families there.

The other activity that the kids truly enjoyed was being able to feed the fishes that resided in the big pond located next to the reception. “Mommy, I want to feed the fishes” became an oft-repeated phrase and it was delightful to see them excitedly clutching cups of fish food and exclaiming in excitement whenever the fishes gobbled up the pellets.

The weekend passed too quickly and before we knew it, Monday morning dawned and it was time to pack up after a short early morning, post-breakfast jaunt to the beach. I knew my girl definitely had a good time when she kept on asking me if we could stay on longer when I told her that it was time to go home. As we had to leave the resort by 1.30pm, we didn’t have time to eat lunch and the F&B staff kindly helped me to pack some cheese sandwiches for the kids to eat during the journey from the resort to the airport. We had a wonderful send-off – everyone came out to wave us off – as well as an unexpected gift that was presented to us right before we left: two copies of a photo – one for each family – that the resort photographer had taken of us during the kampung life activity. What a lovely personalized touch!

It was an lovely weekend away, and more importantly, I managed to spend lots of quality time with my little one. We’re already planning another trip back to Tanjong Jara once the upcoming monsoon season has passed; the hospitality that we’ve experienced here surpasses all the resorts and hotels that I’ve visited thus far…without doubt, Tanjong Jara’s charm has truly found a permanent place in our hearts.

gaya island resort: distinctively borneo.

13 Aug 2012 § 6 Comments

When I heard that YTL will be launching their new resort – Gaya Island Resort, located 15 minutes off the coast of Kota Kinabalu in Sabah – in July, I thought it would be the perfect place to celebrate the boy’s birthday in August and decided to book a trip there. With a launch date scheduled for 1st July 2012, I’d initially thought one month would be enough for the staff to work out the inevitable kinks of a new resort. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans. The resort was not able to meet their opening date and when we set foot at Gaya Island Resort on August 8th, it had only been formally in operations for a grand total of less than two weeks!

Nevertheless, our stay here was generally on the pleasant side despite a few minor (and one major) blips…

Arrival
After a bleary-eyed, early morning flight via Air Asia, we arrived at Kota Kinabalu at 10am in the morning. The Gaya Island Resort reception lounge is situated at Sutera Harbor Marina, just a short 10 minute drive from the airport, hence we decided to pay for an airport taxi (RM30) instead of booking a private car from YTL Resorts (RM150!).

The friendly staff at the reception greeted us with a refreshing calamansi sorbet and drinks upon our arrival and checked us in at the reception itself. After taking a short stroll along the marina to take in the views, we were soon ushered to the speedboat and off we went to Pulau Gaya! Strangely enough, upon our arrival at the resort, we were asked to produce our ICs again to check-in a second time, but other than that, our arrival went smoothly.

Resort grounds
Frankly, this is my biggest disappointment with Gaya Island Resort. Granted, it will take time for the greenery to mature, but trees notwithstanding, the whole place looked like a work-in-progress. Only half the resort was open, and the Spa Village was not operational yet. Personally, I think it is very misleading of YTL to not have informed their guests prior to their arrival (we were only told at the reception at Sutera Harbor that the spa is not ready – not a big deal for us, but the lack of info was rather disconcerting), furthermore, their website made no mention of this. The resort grounds looked very ‘raw’…there were dead and dried plants here and there, the public toilets smelt of fresh cement, the w.c. was dirty…even the soap came in the plastic bottles straight off the shelf.

Things slowly got better as we inched towards the weekend (presumably due to the higher number of guests that would be checking-in on Friday and Saturday), but it was a disappointment nevertheless. Another grouse I had was the construction workers that were walking around the resort grounds (these are the ones not in the GIR uniforms) – there were two occasions where I had to walk back to the room by myself, and when I passed these workers, they called out, “Hiiiiii…where are you going??“. Call me paranoid and/or biased after reading about all the daily incidents in KL, but I felt fearful of my safety on those two occasions as I was alone on a pathway that had a forest on one side and a steep slope on the other.

Room
Our room (#606) was situated quite far from the restaurant and pool, and the daily trek and climb in the humid weather was not something I looked forward to. We stayed at Bayu Villa, which had views of the sea that was slightly blocked by the tropical mangrove forest below. The room is spacious, and the layout is somewhat similar to Pangkor Laut (for those who have been there), whereby there are his-and-hers sinks on each side of the bathroom and a big bathtub at the end of the room.

Sadly, the finishing of the room was far from perfect – for example, I spotted light switches that had not been fixed properly, leaving holes in the wall as well as paint splotches here and there. We were probably the first guests to use the bathtub as well – the sealant gave a loud crack after we’d sunk into a tubful of hot water…thinking back, that was quite hilarious as I thought the tub was going to fall through the floor when I first heard the crack!

What I did enjoy about the room was the strong rainshower that was installed in the bathroom – perfect after a humid and sticky day out at the pool. As there were no in-room telephones, all guests were given a Samsung Galaxy Player that was preloaded with the reception’s telephone number…I thought that was a nice touch!

Pool

While the pool doesn’t look as big as the one in Tanjong Jara, the thing I loved most about it was the four huge day beds that were accessible from the pool bar. You had to wade in knee-high water to get to the day beds, but it was perfect for all-day lounging! As the resort faces the morning sun, the day bed is positioned just right for early morning tanning from 10am-12pm when the sun is out in full force.

I, however, took full advantage of the shade that the rooftop of the pool bar provided, which slowly shifted to cover the whole day bed as the sun moved west, spending hours lounging on the daybed from morning till evening. Its proximity to the pool bar meant that we could leave our belongings on the day bed and enjoy our meals at the pool bar right above. It was r&r at its best, being lulled to sleep by the sound of the water lapping against the side of the pool, and waking to find an ice-cold, all-chocolate, banana split served just the right time. Bliss.

The deck chairs were pretty much fully occupied with sun worshipers enjoying the view of Mount Kinabalu in the distance although the pool remained relatively uncrowded. For those with kids, rest assured that the pool isn’t very deep and there’s also a wading pool next to it for younger children.

Beach
Alas, no sandy white beaches here! The beach was sadly not as pristine as I’d hope it would be – I spotted some random pieces of litter here and there – and although the water nearest to the beach was clear, the bottom was rather sandy with quite alot of sharp stones as well (the hotel provides Crocs shoes which was very thoughtful).

I only ventured into the sea once and only for a short while as we’d spotted a small jelly fish near the jetty and neither of us wanted to get stung (nor try the traditional remedy for jellyfish sting, heh!). Nevertheless, I noticed many of the guests wading out into the sea, having fun snorkeling, kayaking and trying their hands with the stand-up paddle surfboard.

Food

Gaya Island Resort only consists of two restaurants – Feast Village and Fisherman’s Cove (sound familiar? The names were probably inspired by restaurants in another YTL owned property – StarHill). As part of the residents’ package, all our meals were at Feast Village which consisted of a buffet style breakfast and dinner, and a 3-course meal off the menu for lunch. There was a decent spread for the buffet – highlights for me were the soft buttery croissant from the breakfast buffet, and the teppanyaki from the dinner buffet as well as a assemble-it-yourself pavlova from the dessert counter. As for lunch, the food was generally good with exception for the crab and the beef burger that we both had on our first day there – it was a case of quantity over quality as the burgers were huge but sadly lacking in taste.

As part of the birthday surprise, I’d requested for a basket to be packed for a personalized picnic at Tavajun Bay, but upon arrival, I was told that the bay was not accessible yet (this is what I mean when I said earlier on that YTL should have done their due diligence by informing their guests regarding the progress of the resort prior to their arrival!). The reception staff who attended to us was however very apologetic, and in what I felt was a very generous gesture, she arranged for our dinner on the first night to be held at Fisherman’s Cove, on the house! The food we had there was superb – we dined on tuna tataki, lobster bisque, pasta with fresh lobster and prawns right under the twinkling stars. Be warned though, Fisherman’s Cove is open-air and while we were there, there were no fans so it gets pretty hot on a still night!

As for the major blip I mentioned earlier: I’m usually quite careful with my food intake when we go on a holiday, and I’d expected that the food from a YTL resort would be perfectly clean. Sadly, on our final night, after dinner at Feast Village, I came down with a bad case of food poisoning that lasted for two days. I suspect the culprit is probably the fresh salad that I had – perhaps it wasn’t washed properly? Everything else I had that night was cooked (prawns and vege teppanyaki style, a lemon meringue tart and a pavlova). It was such a bad experience and it definitely marred an otherwise pleasant trip.

Staff and service
I have to commend the local staff at the resort – they were very friendly and always smiling, taking time to check if everything was ok. As we neared the weekend, I noticed some foreign staff walking around the resort as well, and while they were polite, the warmth seemed to be sadly lacking as compared to the locals. Knowledge-wise, most of the questions I asked eg. regarding the picnic, the beach bbq, the sunset cruise could not be answered straightaway – but I guess that’s part of the usual teething problems of a new resort.

One incident that saddened me though was when I saw a GIR staff smoking at the jetty and then flicking his cigarette butt over the railings into the clear water below. Considering that Gaya Island is part of the Tunku Abdul Rahman marine park and the resort itself is built to preserve the natural beauty of the island and the delicate ecological system, it’s a pity that the staff were not trained to uphold the same values.

Activities
The resort is definitely not short of things to do for those who are less inclined to lounge the day away. There’s a veritable list of activities provided, from diving to island excursions, nature walks with their resident naturalist, cooking classes and storytelling sessions for the little ones.

We joined in the early morning snorkeling excursion with the resident marine biologist, Scott Mayback. All the equipment was provided by the resort and it was a fun 45-minute outing (though I probably spent a good 15 minutes of it trying to clear my mask, wipe the salt water away from my eyes and stretching my legs that were cramping up!). Scott is extremely knowledgeable and he pointed out the different types of coral and fishes to our group as we swam from the jetty out to the open waters, while reminding us to steer clear of the sea urchins down below – I definitely shuddered at the sight of those long black spines!

We also booked ourselves on a sunset cruise aboard the Lumba-Lumba, a 64-foot beautiful yacht. Departing at 5.30pm in the evening, this is one cruise that’s definitely worth going if you love sunsets as much as we do. There’s nothing more spectacular than to see the glowing, blazing sun slowly move down towards the endless horizon, and just as it disappears, to watch the sky burst into a cornucopia of pink, red and orange while sitting at the bow of the boat in the middle of the sea.

Departure

Our departure from the resort was abit of a let-down. We had to ask the staff if the boat docked at the jetty was indeed the boat that would be taking us back to Sutera Harbor, and there was no send-off or good-byes like we experienced at Tanjong Jara. On top of that, 5 minutes into our journey on the speedboat, we had to turn back because they had apparently ‘forgot a guest’. Without saying a word to us, the speedboat driver just swung the boat around and headed back to the island and to make things worse, he received another call before he reached, presumably to tell him that the guest that had been left behind had been picked up by another speedboat, and he swung round yet again to continue the journey towards the marina. I personally think resorts need to put in the same amount of effort in sending a guest off as they do in greeting a new guest – after all, last impressions count as much as first impressions and the holiday experience should be holistic.

Overall, I would say that Gaya Island Resort definitely has the potential to grow – I would call the negative experiences that we encountered growing pains rather than serious problems. As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, we did enjoy ourselves (food poisoning notwithstanding!) and will probably plan a trip back there in a year’s time when the resort is more seasoned and matured.

happy bellies full tummies.

16 May 2012 § Leave a comment

Here’s a very quick, somewhat photo heavy rundown of  some of the cafés and restaurants we visited whilst in Singapore:

Ippudo @ Mandarin Gallery

Ippudo’s magic hour has got to be 4pm – you can stroll right in and there’s no need to jostle for elbow space. Lovely!

Shiromaru Chashu, Ippudo’s original tonkotsu broth – boiled for hours with pork bones, and served with generous portion of pork belly. The soup is light and slightly creamy, and the ramen noodles were cooked just the way I like it (we requested for ‘medium) – slightly springy with a nice bite to it.

Akamaru Shinaji, the heartier and heavier version which is served with blended miso paste and fragrant black garlic oil (just typing this out makes my tummy growl in hunger!). Despite my preference towards soups that are ‘qīng’ (light), I actually prefer this to the Shiromaru as the miso paste and garlic oil gave it a more unique and robust flavor.

Pork bun (basically pork belly sandwiched in between a steamed bun). Order one per person – you really wouldn’t want to share this!

Wild Honey @ Mandarin Gallery

My staple, must-visit breakfast café whenever I’m in Singapore. I ordered the Belgian breakfast set during our first visit (yes, we went twice!) and it was just as good as I’d remembered – fluffy soft waffles with generous lashings of mascarpone, fresh mango and toasted coconut flakes. I happily scoffed it down before realizing I didn’t take a photo!

Norwegian breakfast set. The boy declared it similar to the European breakfast with exception that it’s wrapped with salmon instead of prosciutto. And there are asparagus. And avocado. Same same but different, eh?

European breakfast set. Sadly, it’s not as tasty as it used to be…perhaps it’s time to try something new the next time we go!

Chatterbox @ Mandarin Orchard

I will never again pay SGD25++ for chicken rice! It. Just. Isn’t. Worth. It. No doubt the serving of chicken breast was generous (but then again, anything less than a C-cup-worth portion of meat would be highway robbery at SGD25++!) and the minced ginger sauce that was served as a side condiment was extremely nice, but paying RM60+ for chicken rice was definitely a moment of madness that shall never ever be repeated.

Most. Expensive. Chicken. Rice. Ever.

Antoinette @ Mandarin Gallery

I have a funny story to share about our visit to Antoinette. We arrived at 9.00pm for some post-dinner dessert, thinking that the cafe would be empty on a Thursday night. Upon our arrival, we were told that the waiting time for a table was 30 minutes. While contemplating if I was desperate enough for dessert to wait, the waiter decided to helpfully tell us that the last order is at 9pm. Gee…helpful info, terrible sequencing. /rolls eyes. A guy waiting outside overheard the conversation and he couldn’t help but to quip to the waiter, “You’re just trying to make life difficult for your customers, aren’t you?”

The Antoinette – a chocolate cake infused with earl grey tea. Wasn’t too impressed with it, in fact I found it a tad bit too sweet, but perhaps that’s just me (I tend to favor slightly bittersweet chocolate). The interesting bit about the cake was the cherry right on top, or what I initially thought was a cherry! It was in fact a round ‘skin’ that had raspberry juice inside which kinda freaked me out – the skin had a rubbery texture that felt and looked like something that would never biodegrade! Needless to say, I left it out of my tummy and in the box.

Note: Some websites have mentioned that the last order at Antoinette’s is actually 9.30pm, not 9pm as I was told by the waiter.

Jones The Grocer @ Dempsey Hill

Sadly, The White Rabbit had already closed when we arrived, so we had to settle for Jones The Grocer instead. And I really mean ‘settle’. The boy ordered the beefburger while I had the club sandwich, and both were extremely mediocre. The sandwich came with a measly piece of chicken and was pretty much dry and tasteless. Service was rather haphazard as well, with our bill and credit card left on the counter for quite a while as we tried to signal a waiter to take it to the register.

The beefburger

Club sandwich

All in all, some hits and misses this time around with old staples proving to be the most reliable in taste!

a day out: universal studios singapore.

10 May 2012 § 1 Comment

I love how Singapore is practically a hop, skip and a jump away – a three hour drive and there we are, in a country that’s almost always immaculately clean and safe (with impeccably spotless washrooms that’s always stocked with toilet paper, heh!).

Well, the boyfriend and I made a short trip to Singapore over the past weekend to utilize the tickets that we’d previously purchased for Universal Studios (our plans in December were thwarted by the horribly rainy weather). The past week had seen a series of hot, sweltering days so I was quite disappointed when I peeked out of the windows of Mandarin Orchard early Friday morning to see overcast skies instead – “Not again??“, I thought. Luckily for us, the weather held out, and with exception for a short drizzle at 11am, the sun came out to party for the rest of the day!

Posing alongside a vintage car

This is the first time I’ve visited a theme park in a hot and humid climate, and to be perfectly honest, it’s an experience I’m not too keen to repeat despite repeatedly wishing for sunny weather prior to our visit. The short mid-morning drizzle only served to increase the humidity as the rain evaporated off the pavement, and by the end of the day, I felt sticky and grimy all over, which was altogether a thoroughly unpleasant feeling. The day was punctuated with short visits to souvenir shops, eateries and shaded areas for some relief from the scorching sun, and if time permitted, I would’ve gladly spent more time in the air-conditioned washrooms!

The Rockafella Boys performing at the Big Apple

At 49 acres, Singapore’s Universal Studio is apparently the smallest amongst all the Universal theme parks around the world, and yet it was already 6pm by the time we covered the entire park (including meals), even with the Express Pass! Thinking back, I really wonder what we did with our time there as we only went on the main rides, didn’t watch all the shows and performances, and hardly spent any time taking photos with the gaily dressed characters that were wandering around the park…I guess it boils down to poor time management, perhaps?

Nevertheless, we did manage to ride the main attractions of the park, namely the two dueling Battlestar Galactica roller coaster tracks, Revenge of the Mummy as well as the much-talked-about Transformers: The Ride and the Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure, so all’s good!

Star attraction: Battlestar Galactica – Human (Red) vs. Cylon (Blue)

I wouldn’t call myself an adrenalin junkie, but I do love a good roller-coaster ride despite my last minute misgivings when I’m at the front of the line, and Battlestar Galactica and Revenge of the Mummy definitely does not disappoint. Between the three rides, I would have to say I enjoyed the Cylon track the most…the inverted roller coaster meant that our feet dangled dangerously free while our world was turned topsy-turvy by a series of cockscrews, loops, a cobra and zero-g roll as we screamed at the top of our lungs at near misses while we ‘dueled’ with the Humans. Not forgetting that drop into a pit filled with artificial mist…what a rush!! The Human track did pale slightly in comparison after the Cylon track (plus point: it was drizzling slightly when we were on the Cylon, which only served to add more excitement to the ride), though the stomach-churning drop on the Human track definitely brought back good memories of riding the Pepsi Max @ Blackpool – at that time, it was the tallest roller-coaster in UK with a heart-stopping drop of 62m (I still remember muttering ‘oh-my-god-oh-my-god’ non-stop as the carriage click-clacked its way up the 65m hill)!

The Revenge of the Mummy is an enclosed ride, and most of the ride sequence takes place in pitch-black darkness which only heightens the excitement. There is something dangerously exciting about not knowing whether you’ll be plunged downwards or flung side-to-side in the yawning black hole ahead!

As for the other two rides, I personally felt that Transformers: The Ride did not live up to the hype. It was fun, but nowhere near as exciting as I thought it would be. I didn’t quite enjoy the Rapids Adventure either – being turned round-and-round was too dizzying for me and the drop at the end was not as high as I’d expected it to be (though my friends who got thoroughly soaked would probably beg to differ, heh!).

Live performance at Mel’s Drive-In

We ended the day with a stroll along the Sentosa Boardwalk which connects Sentosa Island to Vivocity, whilst drinking in the lovely sight of the sun setting in the distance. After a quick dinner at Oriole Cafe right outside Somerset313 and a hot shower, it was truly a big relief to crawl into bed to rest our aching feet and tired calves!

Gorgeous sunset along Sentosa Boardwalk

Here are some of the highlights and tips I can share about our visit to Universal Studios Singapore:

  • There is a complimentary shuttle bus for foreign tourists from certain hotels to USS (there are two routes: Orchard and Bencoolen/Marina); the earliest pickup for the Orchard Road route is from Concorde Hotel at 9am and you will arrive at USS at 9.55am. You will need to show the bus driver your passport and Singapore Embarkation card before you’re allowed to board the bus.
  • Try to arrive at 10am when the park opens. We scheduled our visit on a Friday to avoid the crowds, but there were already a fair number of visitors there by the time we arrived. The morning sun from 10am till noon is still pretty bearable, so you have a good 2 hours to complete the major outdoor rides. 1pm – 3pm was just sweltering hot!
  • Buy the Express Pass (SGD30)! Although most of the rides had a short queue of about 15 mins with exception of the Canopy Flyer at The Lost World which had a whopping 50 mins queue (we were quite mystified by that crazy queue!), it was wonderful to be able to walk right up to the turnstile whilst bypassing the long(ish) line of people. In addition, we were given priority when entering the shows and we even got front row seats for most of the rides (Human vs. Cylon, Revenge of The Mummy).
  • To be honest, there are only a few rides worth going on for adults, namely:
    • The dueling roller coaster ie. Battlestar Galactica (do go for the Human ride first, then Cylon) @ Sci-Fi City
    • Transformers: The Ride @ Sci-Fi City
    • Revenge of The Mummy @ Ancient Egypt
    • Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure @ The Lost City
  • Shows worth watching:
    • Lights, Camera. Action! @ New York (special effects simulation of a Category 5 hurricane in New York)
    • Waterworld @ The Lost City (be prepared to get wet if you’re sitting in the ‘soaking zone’). The queue is kinda crazy for this show if you don’t have an express pass, so go early and be prepared to wait!

Battle scene @ Waterworld

  • Do utilize the computer operated, keyless lockers that are free-of-charge for the first 30-45 mins. The lockers are conveniently located near the Battlestar Galactica rides, Revenge of the Mummy and the Rapids Adventure as you are not allowed to bring loose items with you on the ride.
  • Buy the poncho when you go on the Rapids Adventure unless you don’t mind a soaking (it’s random – the driest seat from the previous round does not necessarily guarantee you’ll emerge nice and dry!). For those who do end up getting soaked, there are two drying pods at the exit of the ride, however, it’s not free of charge.

More details:

Ticket prices from Resort World’s website (tickets can be purchased online, just print out a copy when you go):

Ticket Type
Adult
(Ages 13 to 64)
Child
(Ages 4 to 12)
Senior
(Age 65 and above)
One Day Non-Peak Pass1
68
50
32
One Day Peak Pass1
74
54
36
Two Day Pass1
118
88
58
Annual Pass-
Fun Pass2
338
258
208
Annual Pass-
Action Pass
488 408 358
Annual Pass-
Superstar Pass
638
558
508

Express passes are highly recommended, especially if you’re going on a weekend or public holiday – don’t say I didn’t warn you! Each express pass costs SGD30 (off-peak) / SGD50 (peak).

Have fun!

that holiday high.

21 Mar 2012 § Leave a comment

This appeared on my Facebook timeline courtesy of Malaysian Airlines (via this website) today, and I couldn’t help nodding my head in agreement as I scrolled through the infographic.

Ah well…at least I’m doing something right by researching and booking the next holiday as soon as post-holiday blues hit! My bank balance may beg to differ, but that’s another story (or infographic) altogether!

Take several short trips instead of one long trip.

Hear hear!

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